Eyewitnesses Do Not Always See What They Think They See

Law Articles

If you are being accused of a crime based on eyewitness testimony, it may seem that the police have an open and shut case. Eyewitness testimony can produce a powerful reaction from those seated on the jury. It is often easy for them to take this information as the truth. What you may not realize is eyewitness testimony could actually be in your favor. This is because science has been able to prove that many people do not always see what they think they see, and if you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney, they will be able to prove this.

The Mind Is Not A Video Recorder

Many people assume that your mind automatically records what your other senses experience. This includes what you see, smell, taste, and experience. It then files these visual snippets away as memories just in case they are needed at a future time. Unfortunately, it is not that easy of a process. The brain is far more complex than that, and scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how it works.

The parallel distributed processing approach is the science that has begun to show that memories are not just stored in one central location in your brain but are stored in several areas throughout the brain that are actually linked together. This means that, when you are attempting to retrieve or recreate these memories, you will have numerous parallel processes going at the same time to retrieve this information from numerous locations. 

Each part of a memory is encoded by the section of the brain that was involved in creating the memory. In the case of an eyewitness, the following may be experienced:

In addition the these three areas encoding information, there may also be many other actions taking place within the brain at the same time. When someone is asked to remember something, they must then take these fragments from throughout their brain and reconstruct what they think has happened. During this recreation, other information can be unknowingly combined with the accurate information which in turn creates a false memory or a false account of what they witnessed. 

Stress Can Create False Memories

Many people feel that when they are under extreme stress that it creates memories that they will never forget. While this may seem likely, it is untrue. Stress actually diminishes reliability and accuracy. Numerous studies have shown that the higher the stress factor is, the lower the witness's ability to recount exact details, including who committed the offense. Stress can be caused by the following:

  • The event itself
  • The presence of a weapon during the event
  • Previous experiences with other crimes
  • Other traumatic experiences
  • Preconceived notions about what will happen to the witness following any identification

It May Be Hard To Identify People Who Do Not Look Like You

Cross-race misidentification is another reason why it is often difficult for eyewitnesses to make a positive identification of the person who was involved in a crime. Also known as own-race effect, or own-race bias, studies have shown that eyewitnesses have a difficult time identifying people who do not look like them. It is felt that this primarily happens due to people being less familiar with those of another race.

Cross race misidentification has been found to be strongest when Caucasian witnesses are attempting to identify an African-American. Other studies have shown that this is usually not a problem when the identification is going the opposite way.

The most important thing to remember is, if you are accused of a crime, you need to immediately hire a criminal law attorney. If you cannot afford one, ask the court to have one appointed to your case. Even if the state feels that it has an open and shut case based on an eyewitness, your attorney may know ways to discredit this testimony. Contact a firm like O'Brien & Dekker for more information.


21 December 2015

Car Accident Clues

It can be hard to know what to do to protect yourself legally in the immediate aftermath of a car accident. You’re liable to be disoriented or in shock, you may be injured, and you’re surely worried about your passenger or the other driver. At least, that’s how I felt. The thing is, the things you say and do in the immediate aftermath of an accident may affect a legal case later. Depending on who’s at fault and what the laws are in your state, you may want to sue the other driver for damages, or you may find yourself being sued. My blog is designed to give you tips for a car accident lawsuit, no matter which side you find yourself on.